In a cramped room deep inside PPG Paints Arena late Saturday night, Patrick Kane went out of his way — unprompted, multiple times — to make clear his support of Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton.
But in doing so, Kane also indirectly acknowledged his awareness of the mounting pressure on Colliton, whose patient, reasoned approach has yet to yield much tangible success entering his fourth season and whose intensive training camp immediately led into a disastrous first week of the season.
“There obviously needs to be some urgency to get in the win column and play better and have better starts,” Kane said after the 5-2 loss to the Penguins. “But I think we’re a good-enough team [and] well-enough coached to get out from underneath this and turn it around.”
He emphasized the same sentiment again a few minutes later.
“We’ll find a way to turn it around,” he said. “Like I said, I have a lot of confidence in the team we have [and] the coaching staff.”
One glance at social media, and it becomes clear how strongly the Hawks’ fan base has turned on Colliton, whom they never completely accepted after the front office pulled a quick trigger on Joel Quenneville in 2018.
Nearly every reply to the Hawks’ official final-score tweet Saturday calls for his firing. His introduction as coach during the pregame ceremony for the home opener Tuesday, something the Hawks probably shouldn’t but traditionally must do, will be met by loud boos at the United Center.
After only three games, Chicago’s previous skepticism of Colliton has quickly morphed into unequivocal condemnation and, in some cases, outright hostility. And many of the hostile fans assume Kane and Jonathan Toews — the two beloved veterans (and Quenneville products) still chugging — feel the same distaste toward Colliton, if only secretly.
Kane almost certainly does not, however. He has been a vocal supporter of the young coach since his first months in charge — they see the game similarly — and that hasn’t changed.
But that doesn’t mean Colliton remains as secure as ever. Expectations are far different than in his first three seasons now that general manager Stan Bowman has committed to spending big and promptly contending again.
An 0-2-1 opening road trip with two blowout losses doesn’t exactly look like contention. Colliton’s typical rhetoric about stringing good shifts together, his hybrid defensive system characterized by lots of chasing and his mellow, analytical, never-fiery persona will start falling flat if not backed up by winning.
Many have recently mentioned the Hawks’ history of early-season firings, be it Denis Savard four games into 2008-09 or Quenneville 15 games into 2018-19. Colliton’s leash will be longer. The organization entered 2008 and 2018 looking for reasons to fire Savard and Quenneville; it didn’t enter 2021 with the same mindset. But his leash isn’t endless anymore.
And Kane, too, must improve if the Hawks are to do the same. After not skating hard all summer and entering camp somewhat inhibited by his nagging injury from last season, Kane hasn’t played like his usual dominant self.
He predictably holds the scoring lead with four points (one goal, three assists) through three games. But during his 47 even-strength minutes, the Hawks have been outscored 6-1 and swamped in scoring chances 32-15.
“Sometimes the start of the season is a little weird,” Kane said. “I’ve never been a great preseason or training-camp player. For whatever reason, I kind of feel out the games. I probably [need to] dictate it a little bit more and take over at certain times, but I’ve felt better as each game has went on.”
As the Hawks’ downward trajectory approaches a crisis point, no one is free from blame.